A Berry Beautiful Race

Yikes, that might just win the award for the cheesiest title EVER, so I’m keeping it.

Berry Half Marathon

Berry Half Marathon flyer

The Berry Half Marathon is a popular 13.1 mile race up in Rome, Georgia, and while I was less-than-enthralled with Rome itself, the Berry College campus might be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Apparently, it is the largest college campus in the world with 26,000 acres to explore:

We invite you to experience the largest campus in the world – Berry College’s 26,000 acre wonderland, packed with miles and miles of historic buildings, pristine forest, and diverse wildlife.  Run among some of Berry’s 10,000+ deer and enjoy the hospitality of our school/college volunteers!

— Berry College web site

Old Mill on the Berry college campus

The race starts near the center of campus and takes runners on a tour of this beautiful place via the campus streets, country gravel roads, rocky lake loops and paved bike paths; and while there are no real brutal climbs, the course rolls significantly with the occasional short, but pace-stopping dramatic incline.

This year’s conditions were not exactly “PR-ideal” with a pretty gusty wind (10-15 mphs), wet streets, muddy trails and a chilly, light rain, but I was extra excited to run this race and see what I had in me at the half-marry distance.

A Set of Goals

It’s not a race if you don’t have goals.

I had a strong set of goals:

  1. sub 1:24 – I know, I know, but it’s exactly what I need to top seed
  2. sub 1:30 – ‘cuz I really wanna see some 1:20s
  3. sub 1:32 – ‘cuz Ray K predicted 1:32:47 and I wanted to shake ‘dat
  4. To PR – At the very least, anything below 1:43 would be a personal best

Also making this race super-cool was the attendance of my wife. She’s been training diligently, and this was to be her second half-marathon and the first time we’ve ever traveled together with both of us racing.

Throw in a li’l Weezy and his wife, and the race had all kinds of fun vibes to it.

Let’s race!

The Start

It still feels weird to me to start up front. I just don’t feel like “I” should be there.

But there I stood at the front, with photographer Jason Spruill and a collection of tank-top-clad collegiate athletes, nervous as Hell, and with the iPod shuffle already blaring some loud Fort Minor tunes.

The gun went off.

The 10K racers and half-marathoners started together, but I forgot about that, and I forced myself to hang with the front pack right out of the gate.

“wow, some of these college cross country kids are really hammering early!”

Miles 1-4

After the first mile, I looked at my watch, “Cool, 6:04, and I feel ok.”

Mile 2, 6:14.

And then we hit the Twilight Zone.

After mile 2, the race takes runners down a very long, rolling paved road that heads out to a wooded, older area of the school called the mountain campus. It felt weird on that road as bizarre things kept happening to me. Huge water droplets kept dropping out the branches and getting in my eyes, people started flying by me (despite the fact that I was running low sixes), my racing flats were starting to get soaked, and then, the worst thing of all…

My Garmin freaked out.

For whatever reason, sometimes, in the rain, my Garmin will go off the training screen and flip back to time/date mode – and the buttons stop working so I can’t get it back. It still pops up my splits at mile intervals, but I can no longer view my race pace, and its rare that the intervals exactly match the race’s mile markers, so I never really know anything.

To make a complicated, technology-hassle story short, I was now running pace-blind.

“Shit, shit, shit!” I yelled loudly, and swore to myself that I was giving up all technology in running as something always messes up with it, be it music or watches or whatever…

Finished mile three in 6:24 as luckily, I caught the 3-second split-display window just on a hunch that it would be there after passing the 3 mile sign.

Never happened again.

Miles 5-9

It took us splitting off from 10K runners for me to finally realize why some runners were hammering so hard, so early. “Duh,” I felt stupid.

This was my first mistake, and the first hard-knocks lesson I took away from this race – “don’t get comfortable.” – because once I realized I had less competition in front of me than I thought, I backed off a little and rationalized it as “a little recovery.”

That’s BS.

In reality, I was already a li’l tired, so I chose to be lazy. Who cares about the other runners? I was racing the clock. I should have maintained pace as if I was still in a mode of a little fear. Had those 10Kers not broken off, I’d still be running in a panic.

Running with a little fear is good sometimes. And especially when you no longer have a watch giving you pace feedback.

I started thinking about the old school fast dudes and how they never had fancy pace watches and iPods and all that crap, and instead just ran their hearts out and let the chips fall where they may – I like that.

miles 5, 6, and 7 had some short, steep, challenging climbs and a really muddy out-n-back gravel section. I didn’t like the gravel in racing flats, but I liked that it was out-n-back and that I could count my position in the race.

I was seemingly running in 15th place with no one close behind me to make me sweat, but also nowhere near anyone in front neither.

As usual, running alone.

After a really cool, twisty, turning tour through some kind of cool mountain-side, retreat-looking place, we hit a drastic bike path descent to a rocky trail that looped a pretty lake.

This chunky, rocky terrain was brutal in racing flats and it slowed me down quite a bit.

Even worse, we left this gravel for only a split-second before hitting another rolling 1.5 mile stretch of even worse gravel, causing me to slow even more.

This stretch was also out-n-back and I noticed that two tri-athlete-looking dudes, in those one-piece tank top, bright colored get-ups, were bearing down on me.

“Where’d they come from?”

Bring It Home – Miles 10-13.1

After the last of the gravel trail, the race dumps us onto a ever-so-slightly rolling, paved bicycle path that looks like the road to nowhere.

In all the race reports I read pre-race, people referred to this as boring.

I loved it.

I was not pleased with my performance thus far in the race, but this section woke me up a little. I caught a couple o’ dudes here and I really picked up the pace. I’d love to report just how much time I made up, but alas …no functioning Garmin.

This stretch “looked” long, but felt pretty short. Sometimes I can actually talk myself into running faster in an effort to make the miles go by that much faster. And especially, when I can smell the barn and know I’m close to being done.

The funky-clothed tri dudes caught me with less than .5 to go, and it kinda bummed me out for a second, but I knew I didn’t have it in me to fight ’em. Berry lesson 2 – don’t be a punk. This seems to be a tough lesson for me to conquer.

As I sprinted towards the finish, the crowds were huge and loud and it pumped me up like crazy. I can only imagine what a New York Marathon must be like ‘cuz I really dig all that crowd excitement.

As I crossed the 13-mile mark, I caught a glimpse of the big race clock at 1:30:50-ish, and knew I wasn’t going to break 1:30… but unlike my wimpy 18:51 5K gig a couple o weeks ago, I didn’t just deflate and start jogging, but actually ran hard all the way across the matts.

1:31:33

1st place AG, top 20 overall (20th), and over 12:00 improvement on my Silver Comet half-marathon PR, all on a much harder course.

So, I’m happy. (I promise, Babette, I am!)

Christian Griffith with Jeff Galloway

photo: accepting my award from running legend Jeff Galloway.

Bringing Home a Hottie

After my race, I chilled a bit, rehydrated, and then went back out, backwards along the course, cheering in other finishers and looking for Babette.

When I found her around the 11.5 mile mark, her arms were flailing in the air and she was smiling from ear-to-ear.

Awesome.

I was so happy as I just wasn’t sure what I would find when I got to her, but she looked cute and fresh as a daisy.

“Run/walk really works!” she yelled.

But quickly followed that up with, “but I don’t wanna talk…”

And with that she put her music back on, and we ran in silence, side-by-side.

Weezy joined us after his finish (a strong sub-1:50), and as a threesome we all ran to the finish with my lady. I loved hearing them call her name and watching her pick up the pace .1 from the finish. She was cute as Hell and I was as excited as she was, I think.

Babette Griffith at the 2011 Berry Half Marathon

Maybe not.

What did I learn?

Interesting race and internal reflection for me.

As I sat in the garage this morning, picking rocks out of my racing flats, I really searched for some understanding regarding my feelings at this current stage of my running, and I noticed some things I am proud of, but also some things I am not.

1) I might be too hard myself, sometimes.

Even though I PR’d like crazy, won my age group (really 2nd ‘cuz the dude above me was 3rd overall), and clocked a respectable time on a challenging course, I pouted just a little because I didn’t sub-1:30. I called it out, and didn’t get it; but, that attitude really annoyed my wife and she was 100% right.

I don’t want to become one of those runners who loses the stoke for the sport simply because I get too hung up on performance.

Sure! It matters. A lot to me… but, not more than the experience itself. Gotta keep things in perspective.

The way I now see it is, “as long as I am improving, whether a little or a lot, I will eventually get to where I want to be.”

I like that because I can believe it.

2) I can’t expect to crush everything I do.

I came into this race tired and not fully recovered. Just like the Cheaha 50K last week and the 5K the weekend before, my performances, while respectable, were not “my best.”

Not like Mountain Mist 50K and Mercedes Marathon, where I feel I peaked and gave it every single thing I had.

I have to make choices.

Either I continue to race this much and accept that some events will not be my best performances because I am not specifically trained for them, or I settle down, and be more selective in the races I run, allowing myself better recovery and more time for race-specific training.

3) Consider tossing the techno garbage

I just might throw away the watches and also go back to music-less running. I’m just not the right dude for it. I can’t seem to get any of it right and I end up breaking more of the sh!t than actually getting any good use out of it.

It’s too much drama, concern, and hassle.

I might just focus on the competition and see how that goes. Try to stay up with the super fast cats and fall back where I haft’a.

It’s not like I use it to run smart anyway. I only use it to stress myself out, and bum me out, when i’m off-pace. I never look at it and say, “oh, gee, 5:45, better slow down.” – and then actually slow down. That would be too smart.

Thanks and Congratulations

I really enjoyed the race, so thanks to Berry College, the race director (and her cool husband who introduced himself to me as a reader of this blog), and all the volunteers, cops and medical personnel.

Congratulations to Babette, my wife, for a solid PR at 2:26:37 …and seemingly doing so easily and efficiently and with a smile.

Congrats to Weezy on his solid performance, his wife Carole on her first 5K finish, GUTS member Thomas Armbruster, Jason Spruill for squeezing in just behind me but making me sweat the whole way, and both Susan and Wes Breeding for taking awards in their individual races as well.

…and anyone I else I may have forgotten.

Just proves the experience is where its at. The performance is bonus.

I hope I can really, truly keep sight of that.

…but probably not.